Posts Tagged ‘Cancer’

Round 4: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

August 28, 2014

She wrote “I looked south, to where I’d been, to the wild land that had schooled and scorched me, and considered my options.  There was only one, I knew.  There was always one.  To keep walking.”

That was from the book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cherly Strayed, who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail alone to discover herself.  A worthy journey but not for the faint of hearts.

It is a journey of redemption that she undertook on whim after her mother died of cancer.  I am sure some of us have had fleeting urges to undertake a self-induced journey of rediscovery, like retreat, yoga or hiking.  Maybe some don’t know where to begin.  Cheryl’s road to rediscovery started in Mojave, California and ended up at the Bridge of the Gods, east of Portland, Oregon.  It was more than a thousand mile hike alone in the wilderness.

As I read the book I could not help relate to it through my cancer journey.  Much like Cheryl, my cancer journey has shaped me to what I am today.  Whilst her journey has long finished, I am still on the trails of my redemption not knowing if, when, or where it will end.  I too have looked backed; have been schooled, scorched, joyed, and learned many times over.  Then there is the only option in front: to fight and survived.

There is only one difference between me and Cheryl, she chose to the PCT to discover herself while cancer chose me to make me see life, family, and relationships differently.  I have long stopped asking why I was chosen, instead I just accepted my faith willingly.  Thy will be done.

I still marvel at the people I meet along the way.  Yesterday was chemo day, Round 4, and my nurse was Marissa instead of Sammy.  She is from the Philippines and had worked with Edith, my other oncology nurse at Swedish Hospital.  There is LindaJ, the nurse research coordinator, the crochet ladies at the waiting room, other cancer patients, and many many other people who have touched me during this journey.  To write I acknowledgements to all would risk not naming all but I feel grateful and blessed.  Besides, this post would not end.

So, my journey continues and I am glad you are with me.  I am sure some are on a journey too or have had one e.g. divorce, sickness or just a redemption-seeking adventure.  Whatever it is (or was), there comes a point when you stop to rest and think.  You look back and you look ahead.  Whether it is a pain-numbing 26.2 mile race or an unplanned-system-shocking event that paralyze you to stillness, just block it and take the only option: Move.  Don’t give up.  Have faith.  Soon it will be your moment of self-discovery.


Half-Madness 13.1 medals

Half-Madness 13.1 medals

P.S. Over weekend, my wife and I completed a half-marathon in 2:57:23.  Not a PR but it met our target goal considering I had chemo during the week.  Next is to continue to slowly build the miles to 15, 18, 20, and maybe enter Chicago this October while on therapy.


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St. John the Baptist

June 23, 2013

Cavite City, Philippines

MMy cousin, Cory, invited us to celebrate the Feast of St. John the Baptist in her home town of Cavite City (22 miles southwest of Manila).  It has been a while since I have seen her, so her invitation was very timely.  St. John the Baptist is the patron saint of the city of Cavite, aside from Manila and San Juan cities, but in Cavite they celebrate it differently.

In Cavite City, they parade the statue of St. John in the streets (locally known as “karakul”) and residents would come out to meet the statue.  Water is very much part of the ritual.  The streets are lined up with kids (and adults) with pales and buckets of water to throw at vehicles and passers-by.    Everybody is wet and having a good time.

St John the Baptist

Waiting to splash cars and people

It reminded me of my childhood and the simplicity of life in the provinces.  Not to be out done, my cousin has barrels of water you can get from, a hose and water guns aimed at people, vehicles, and stray dogs.  We did not have any change of clothes, so I was firing away from the safety of a fence.  Splash…splash…squirt…squirt, and hide.  Like a kid I was having fun courtesy of St. John.  As you can see, rituals and traditions are very much part of everyday life in the Philippines.  Religion, especially Catholicism, is very much ingrained here.  Like going on pilgrimages.

A Pilgrimage to Kamay ni Hesus (Hand of Jesus)

June 24, 2013

Lucban, Quezon, Philippines

Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the blessings and opportunities that I receive.  One such moment is our unscheduled trip to Lucban, Quezon (72 miles southeast of Manila), where the shrine of Kamay ni Jesus is located.  The place was founded by Fr. Joey Faller, a healing priest, in 2005 and since then many Catholics have made their way to the shrine to seek out the healing powers of Fr. Faller.

I know back in the US we have faith healers, but here in the Philippines—where every other sentence spoken would include some reference to God and His blessings—you are immersed in religion.  Jesus, God, Saints, Virgin Mary, etc. is represented everywhere from names of town, streets, taxis, etc., to home altars, rosaries dangling in cars, bracelet rosaries, and curse words.  You would think that Jesus (and Judas) were Filipinos.

Filipinos have come to put all their faith in God. This implicit trust in God would at times extend to as basic as praying for food and good fortune.  God will provide, all you have to do is pray.  So people would pray (like my mom), go to church everyday (like my mom), and pray more (and yes…like my mom).

My faith in God is always tested here in the Philippines.  I should be more closer to God for He has brought me back from the brink of death.  I should do many other things to pay homage to God like those devotees here.  In my own way I am.  I may not have self-inflicted whipping scars in my back to show penitence but I am very thankful to have reached this far in my fight with cancer.  I am here in Manila to visit family and it is because of Him.  I no longer question what is given to me; I just say thank you.  Thus, when the Lucban trip presented itself, I just went not knowing what to expect.

In Lucban, pilgrims come to find healing, peace, and if your faith is strong enough: miracles.  My private miracle was being blessed by Fr. Faller himself.  I expect very little from this unplanned visit, instead we ended up having a private audience with Fr. Faller himself.  My wife asked the receptionist if we can see Fr. Faller since we have come very far just to be touched by his healing power.  My wife’s faith is so strong she would do anything to get rid of my cancer.  Her prayers were answered.  Fr. Faller came out and led us (my wife, sister-in-law Queenie, and I) to his private chapel.

With his hand on my head, he prayed for my healing.  I felt his sincerity in the purging prayers he said.  Is just my imagination but I felt a surge of energy go through my body.  There was warmth and prickly needle sensation where his hand meets my head, like an electric current.  He orders my cancer to go back to where they came from and leave my scared body.  He claimed that I am free of my disease in confident tones; after which, he left us in peace with our thoughts in the chapel.  Peace.  Serenity.  Balance.

Like a lost soul I didn’t know how to feel.  I am glad I went to the shrine but I tempered my expectation if I am deserving of a miracle.  Many pilgrims have come to this place in search of relief, peace, and healing.  I am no different from the rest.  What comes next is the same uncertain feeling i get: Have I done enough or worthy of a miracle cure?.  For now, thy will be done.

Fr Faller with Irish and Bo

Fr. Faller, wife Irish, and me


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I am ok

I am ok
February 27, 2010

Last night was one of the worst night I ever had. I think it is the cumulative effect of chemo on my body. The vomits, chills, and cough were in full attack. My sister who was visiting from Canada and my wife did their best to comfort me and clean up after me. God bless them.

I am still here. I am ok. I will be back.


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Life is good.

February 21, 2010

Life is good runner

That is what it says on my t-shirt.  I wish it was the image of the runner but this one is an image of a golfer pumping fist as the ball goes in ala Tiger Woods, but this is not about Tiger Woods (he’s go issues!).

It is about small or simple victories and enjoying life.  That is how the two brothers, Bert and John Jacobs, started Life is Good, by selling t-shirts in the back of their van in the streets of Boston and along the East Coast.  One t-shirt at a time.

So this morning, God winked (thanks for the book ChrisL) at me and told me to wear my Life is Good tees to church.  I did.  It also made me think of the small victories I had in preparation for next week’s chemo treatment.  Let’s see;

  • Run/walk total for the week: 3 miles
  • Longest run on bike: 5 miles (in a cold 32F weather)
  • Calories consumed: a lot

The result was good.  I managed to gain back some of the weight I loss, but not the hair. 😮  My wife can see the difference in me during the week.  I rebounded faster and I was more determined to remove the toxins in my body by running, walking, biking, and doing yoga.   It was not easy at first.  I sometimes struggled just to my target one mile, or pedal against the cold wind biting my exposed skin, or hold the yoga pose without the nausea surge.  But I got through it and I am ready.

I am not going to say I am looking forward to my next chemo treatment but I feel I am more prepared; mentally and physically.

I remember my first chemo treatment—when I was first diagnosed with colon cancer—more than two years ago.  I was told that systemic chemo treatments are going to be more of a mental challenge than a physical challenge.  It is about keeping your spirit.  It was true then and it is still true now.  It is about not letting cancer take away your spirit.  Similarly, in life it is about not letting any setbacks or challenges take away your goals or dreams.  I was reminded of that today.

It was all about life is good back then, it is good today, and will still be good tomorrow.


PS: Tomorrow, February 22, I have an appointment with a liver transplant specialist for a second opinion and resectability of my tumor.  Never met a transplant specialist before I hope I do not look awe-struck.  Hope is he likes foie gras too.

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I am almost out of the hole again.

February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine’s to everybody.

I am almost out of the hole.  I completed my third chemo treatment last Thursday, February 11.  The next day, Friday, we tried something new to get me back on my feet right away.  I normally get a booster shoot (Neulasta) one day after my treatment to help me build my white blood cells.  (Note: chemotherapy kills cancer cell including healthy cells.  When white blood cells go down your body’s immunity weakens making you susceptible to other sickness and infection).

Along my booster shoot, I was given one liter of vitamin infusion again.  It helped while it lasted but at night I still got the chills, nausea, feverish feeling, non-stop coughing fits, loss of appetite, and lost of hair.  I need to cut my hair really short to hide the patches.  My kids wanted to shave my head but not on Valentine’s weekend.

My wife can see that I sometimes lose my spirit too no matter how I hide it.  They are doing everything they can medically to get me back on my feet and it is up to me to standup and carry on.  With difficulty, I went to my yoga class yesterday (Saturday).  I think they were surprise to see my walk through like a ghost all bundled up and head covered.  My daughter drove me to class; I need to get my spirits up because I was draining it from those close to me.  I am glad I went.  My body needed to stretch and work away the toxins.  My yoga-mates fed my spirits but I struggled with fits of hacking cough.  I hope I did not disturbed them too much but I was glad to see them.

Mom called to greet me happy valentine’s and told me of her plans to arrive in Chicago from the Manila.  I can’t stop her from coming but I know she is getting stressed.  She turns 78 this year.

The plan is to recover this coming week.  I am going for high calorie food, like pizza as Chris said.  Runners know this as an efficient food; compact but loaded with calories and it fits my shrinking appetite.  There might be a big challenge ahead and will tell you later.  For now, I will enjoy the rest of my Valentine’s day.


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Dr. V (Part 2 of 2)

February 8, 2010

Saturday, February 6 at 6:30 am in the hospital.

We were second in the signup list.  Never been here this early on a Saturday.   Everything was quiet.  With me were my wife and daughter, Abby.  This will be my third colonoscopy (first in Rio 2008, then here 2009, and now) and I still could not get use to that nasty prep drink you have to consume.  It tastes like heavy water but with a distinct smell that cannot be masked by flavorings.  I just got to get through this and then I can eat again.  I am hungry.

After registering, we went to day-surgery unit and waited to be called.  We were first in the empty waiting room.

“Mr. Alvarez?  Follow me.” The nurse said and led to a waiting bed inside.  I was the first patient for the day. “Please remove all your clothes and change into this hospital gown and bootie.  Your nurse will be with you after.”

I know this routine already.  It is just like the routine of my weekly runs before.  Put the clothes and shoes in plastic bag.  Leave your valuables.  Use the blanket to keep warm.  Go to washroom.  Then open the curtains for the show to begin.

“Hi, my name is Liz and I will be your nurse.” I notice a distinct accent when she spoke.

Australia.” I said.  “You must be from Australia from you accent.”

England.  From a small town outside of London.” She replied.  In between the medical questions and the form signings, I learned she just moved to Chicago from Boulder, Colorado with her husband and three kids; the youngest are two-year old twins.  I told her my wife is a nurse and her name is Irish.  She is English and my wife is Irish.  Get it?  Parumpum (sounds of cymbals).  I think I need my sedative now.  The I asked:

“What is haggis?  A friend from UK told me about haggis and deep-fried Mars bar.  I could imagine what deep-fried Mars bars are but have no idea about haggis?”

Carefully choosing her words, she replied “It is dish from Northern Scotland made from sheep stomach.  I don’t eat it but there is a vegetarian version of it.”

Sheep stomach, Skye?.  Hmm…  I think I may need a colonoscopy after eating that.

Back to reality, I learned Dr. V was in but had to take care of an emergency patient.  I will be next.  My wife and daughter joined  me while waiting for my turn.  Then she came for me.  Nurse Marlyn wheeled me into surgery.  Here we go.

I don’t remember much while in the scope room.  They told me they are going to do the endoscopy of my stomach first then the colonoscopy.  I remember being fitted with this mouth piece to keep my mouth open and was told I was to be given sedative and Demerol, a fast-acting pain med.  I saw Dr. V checking me and told the nurse to give me more Demerol.  Bam, I was out.

I don’t remember the scope being inserted in my mouth.  In a haze, I was asked to changed position as Dr. V was in the middle of completing the colonoscopy.  I saw the screen showing my colon and some biopsy samples taken.  And I am done.  Was that a date rape?

At the recovery area, I was joined by my wife and daughter.  We waited for Dr. V to give us the results.

“Everything is clear.  No problem with the stomach and colon.  I am not sure what is causing your stomach pain.  Maybe from your chemo treatments.” Dr. V said.  Then he picked it up again on where he left off suggesting a liver resection for my case.  My wife explained we went down this path before in consultation with my surgeon.  This is complicated.


I feel like I am being pulled from all directions.  It bothered me over the weekend.   Too many issues on the table compared to my previous treatments.  Cancer sucks.  Tomorrow, Tuesday, in the midst of a expected snow storm, I go down the hole again for my third chemo treatment.  Is this snow storm an omen?  My demons await me.  Part of me will be kicking and screaming as I walk alone to meet them.  I will be doing the dance with them again.  I pick the Messiah for the music.  After we are done, my friends and family await me.  Thank God.


PS:  I did a run/walk today.  I completed one whole mile.  Woohoo!

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Dr. V. (Part 1 of 2)

February 7, 2010

Friday 2:00 pm at doctor’s office.

“Hi, I am Dr. John V.  How are you?”

“I am fine, doctor.” I replied

“Have you ever considered liver resection?  Are there just three lesions in your liver?  Have you ever done a PET scan?  Do you mind if we consult your case with a liver transplant specialist in Northwestern Hospital?” (Note: Northwestern is one of the biggest hospital in the area and among the top in the US).

Huh?  These were the staccato of questions when I first met Dr. V. the gastro-intestinal (GI) specialist.  My daughter, Abby, and I had a confused look.  I was there to consult for my erratic stomach problems and we are talking about liver surgery.  I brought the results of the ultra-scan of my liver and CT scan of the abdomen to make it easier for him to diagnose and avoid more tests.  But he just zeroed in on my liver lesions still present.

“You are young.  Healthy.  You should be aggressive to cure your cancer.  Do I have your permission to send it Dr. A at Northwestern?” He continues.

I thought I was being aggressive about my illness.  The one consistent thing about the doctors I meet is that they always look at me as a healthy specimen who just happen to have metastatic cancer.  It makes me wonder why people get so sick before seeing their doctors.  Perhaps we should listen to their bodies more or just simply have a healthy lifestyle.  Am I the exception?  Make time for yourself and go run or walk.  I digress.

But what about my stomach problem?  As if reading my mind, Dr. V said.

“Ok, lie down let me check your abodomen.  Let’s draw some blood.  Loosen your pants and let’s check your prostrate also.”

Whoa!  This guy is really aggressive on our first date.  After my daughter leaves the room, he squirts a healthy swab of gel in his rubber gloved hand and….hello!  Then gives me some tissue to wipe away…’my tears’.  I felt used 😮

“Everything is good.  Let’s schedule you for colonoscopy and endoscopy.  Are you available tomorrow at 7:30 am?”

I thought doctors don’t work on Saturday?”  I said with a smile trying to wiggle my way out of this ‘date’.  This getting serious.  Do I go to the next level of our budding relationship?

Thinking, I am going to miss my Saturday 8:00 am yoga too.  Hmmm…yoga or colonoscopy?

“Ok, Doc.  Let’s do it.” I blurted.  Too late.

Dr. V and I are really getting cozy now.  After getting out of his office I called my wife to tell him of the news.  Honey, I am coming home with a gallon of nasty stuff to drink to clean my colon again!  And oh, by the way, Dr. V is asking us to consider liver surgery again.  Too much information for a day.  I started my day with vitamin infusion and will end it with a flush of my colon.  Oh well.  I should have said no.  Omm….


PS:  Will tell you more about my colonoscopy and endoscopy.  Also, thanks for Harris tweed scarf, Alaistair.  It definitely keeps me toasty warm and is now part of me.

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